HUMANS ARE so constituted as to pay attention to anniversaries. For any week of the year, there are countless dates that have been recorded by historians over the centuries.
Here is just a sample from Sept. 1:
1181—Cardinal Ubaid of Ostea was elected Pope Lusius III after the death of Pope Alexander III.
1494—King Charles VIII of France invaded Italy to claim the throne of Naples.
1715—Louis XIV, France’s Sun King, died at Versailles.
1879—The British signed a treaty with the Zulu chief with whom they were at war in Africa.
1923—Tokyo and Yokohama were destroyed by an earthquake that killed 140,000 persons.
ON THIS chronological list one date triggered an early, vivid memory for me.
It was on Sept. 1, 1939, that Germany invaded Poland and annexed the free city of Danzig.
That was the date on which I was returning from a month-long vacation with my parents and my mother’s sister, Ethel Smith of Houston.
We had driven to New York City to attend the 1939 World’s Fair, billed as “The World of Tomorrow” and notable for its projection of a new world that could come about — and did. But not until after the interruption known as World War II.
THE SYMBOL of the World’s Fair was the globular Perisphere and, rising beside it, the tall triangular Trylon. Inside the globe, a raised walkway was built so that one could look down on a model city where expressways criss-crossed each other and most people lived in high-rise buildings.
(Half of that prediction came true. And in 1939, both aspects were stunning.)
In a nearby building television, still at an experimental stage, was demonstrated.
We drove from New York to my dad’s home town, New Hamburg, Ontario, where we visited relatives before heading back home through Detroit, Mich., where we also had kinfolks.
OUR 1939 Oldsmobile was equipped with a car radio, which is why we could have been found on Sept. 1 pulled over on the side of a road in Cape Girardeau, Mo. We were listening to a news bulletin about Germany’s invasion of Poland.
My aunt started crying. She said this surely meant that world war was coming, and her son and only child, Luther, would be killed. Of course my parents tried to console her, and for several years it seemed her worry was unfounded.
My cousin was turned down for military service because of a trick shoulder.
HAVING STUDIED electrical engineering at the University of Texas, he was hired by Stromberg-Carlson in Rochester, N.Y., where proximity fuses were developed in the war effort.
Luther’s skills were such that the Marine Corps offered to waive the physical and give him a direct commission. He made it through basic training and was on his way home to Houston on embarkation leave before heading for the Pacific combat zone in February, 1945.
The American Airlines DC-3 on which he was a passenger crashed into a mountain in Virginia and he was killed. Whether his mother’s 1939 vision was true foreknowledge or normal maternal apprehension remains a question, with me, to this day.
HAPPENINGS in this season of 2009 will be showing up as anniversary dates in years to come, no doubt—most notably, the deaths of Michael Jackson on June 25 and of Sen. Ted Kennedy on Aug. 26.
As was repeated endlessly on TV’s wall-to-wall coverage, the death of Ted Kennedy represented the end of an era. And the reaction to it told vividly what a divided nation the U.S. has become.
Millions admired Sen. Kennedy for his devotion to his country’s welfare and his role as patriarch of a tragedy-ridden family. Countless others expressed themselves in the blogosphere as being glad to see him go — to put it charitably.
ANOTHER DEATH evoked a comment on the Texas Observer website. Columnist and longtime Observer key figure Molly Ivins would have had her 65th birthday on Aug. 30. She died of breast cancer in 2007, but she’s far from forgotten. One of the reprinted comments summed her up concisely:
“Molly Ivins is a nationally syndicated political columnist who remains cheerful despite Texas politics. She emphasizes the more hilarious aspects of both state and national government, and consequently never has to write fiction.”
Both Molly and George W. Bush grew up in prosperous Houston families and had mutual friends from their attendance at the private St. John’s School.
The future president, of course, remained true to his family’s Republican politics.
Molly also grew up in a staunchly Republican family, her father a corporate lawyer.
I read a number of Ivins biographies posted on the Internet.
ALL AGREED that she was feisty, courageous, provocative, influential, humorous on the order of Mark Twain. But only one, a site called spiritus-temporis.com, answered a question I have wondered about for years.
What turned this graduate of Masssachusetts’ Smith College (also her mother’s alma mater and largest of the Seven Sisters women’s colleges) and Columbia U. Graduate School of Journalism into a pillar of Texas liberal Democrats’ unofficial house organ? The website said:
“Ivins made her way to liberalism on issues of civil rights (‘once you realize they’re lying to you about race everything else follows’) and the Vietnam War.”
After forays outside of Texas to work for the Minneapolis Tribune and The New York Times she returned permanently to Texas. The books she wrote included two irreverent treatments of the 43rd president, co-authored with Lou DuBose: Shrub: the Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush and Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America.